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Young children willing to incur personal cost to achieve equal pay, StFX adjunct psychology professor finds in research published in Child Development

February 10th, 2021
Dr. John Corbit

Children are willing to incur a personal cost to achieve equal pay, a StFX researcher has found while looking at children’s responses to gender pay inequity across two societies, in the U.S. and in Peru.  

Dr. John Corbit, an adjunct professor in the StFX Department of Psychology, is the lead author on a paper Children in the United States and Peru Pay to Correct Gender-Based Inequality published in Child Development, a top journal in developmental psychology.  

“Group-based inequalities are pervasive across human societies, but their developmental origins are not well understood. One such form of inequality is manifested in the gender gap in pay. We set out to investigate how children in the USA and Peru respond to gender pay inequity, in order to better understand the developmental origins of gender-based inequality,” says Dr. Corbit, who teaches human development across cultures and cultural psychology at StFX, and is also a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow at Dalhousie University. 

The researchers presented children with scenarios where boys and girls had been paid unequally for the same job, and asked participants whether they would like to pay with their own candies to change the unequal distributions. 

“We expected to see one of three patterns, one possibility was that children would show the early signature of the gender pay gap and preferentially intervene when males received less, another possibility was that both boys and girls would show a preference for their own gender, finally we might see that children prefer equity and correct both forms of gender based inequality. This is exactly what we saw, in both the USA and Peru, children were willing to pay a cost, by giving up some of their own candies, to ensure that everyone received equal pay.” 

Dr. Corbit says in previous work, the researchers had seen different norms of fairness across these societies and there is a persistent gender gap in pay in both populations. Other researchers, he says, have suggested that children begin to follow the norms of their cultures around middle childhood, the same age group that were included in these studies. 

“So, it was remarkable to find such a strong preference for gender pay equity amongst children in both of these populations.” 

That young children are remarkably concerned with fairness is a very hopeful sign as we seek to move toward a more equitable society, Dr. Corbit says. 




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